Goal or Foul? FIFA’s Long History of Corruption

Two underdog teams and two legendary lineups in the semi-finals: the 2022 Qatar World Cup seems to be straight out of an extremely dramatized Hollywood film full of major upsets and suspenseful penalty shootouts. These lively, rousing matches make the tournament one that is viewed by billions of football fans, with some physically attending the games while most watch through digital platforms. The growth of the World Cup over the past few decades has also been an intriguing story with the rise of televised games transforming it into a truly grandiose, global event.

However, there is an aspect of this international tournament that, believe it or not, is more tense than these scenes. One that grabs the attention of presidents, prime ministers, and other world leaders from the most powerful nations. One that many countries vie for after waiting for decades. One that will bring out the darkest, most dishonorable behavior in them. I am referring to the deceitful process that decides who will be the host country for the World Cup.

While many might waive this off as an unnecessary topic in our already-complex time period, it is yet another essential example of an issue that plagues us all: corruption that, in this scenario, creeps up to even those at the highest, most prestigious levels of authority.

Our unfortunate story begins in 1964 when FIFA, the largest international governing body of football established in 1904 in France, made its most corrupt move yet. Now, don’t get me wrong, FIFA officials had already dipped their toes in the world of bribery but by removing a major check and balance from the larger FIFA organization and restricting all voting rights to a smaller group was a complete nosedive. When there was a massive boost in member countries of FIFA, the organization decided to divide the countries up into 6 confederations.

Before the major decision was made, the general FIFA Congress which had 144 members at the time (one representing every member country) voted for which country should host future World Cups depending on who had placed their bids. This action, however, gave all the voting power to the FIFA Executive Committee or ExCo which only had 24 members (consisting of the leaders of the 6 regional confederations and other top officials like the president). What is especially concerning is that only a simple majority of 13 votes was necessary to decide the final host country, making bribery much more easier at a larger scale. FIFA had also moved their headquarters to Zurich, Switzerland, a country where, due to governmental laws and regulations, corporate finances cannot be traced. This made it even more difficult for governmental officials to research the corruption within FIFA.

After the 1964 decision, corruption was rampant from many members and the practice became deeply rooted in FIFA’s culture. The bids to host the 2006 World Cup, however, marked a whole new milestone for this ignoble organization. After FIFA began seeking hosts outside of South America and Europe where most World Cups had been hosted until then, many more countries submitted their bids. In fact, a gargantuan total of 5 countries showed great interest in hosting the 2006 World Cup: England, Germany, Brazil, Morocco, and South Africa.

With this high-stakes competition came many more additions to what it takes to earn the ExCo members’ votes. Within the span of the bidding war that lasted 2 years, the countries spent millions of dollars on PR events, plans for new stadiums, and more reliable transportation infrastructure. Through this, FIFA unintentionally created a public bidding system in which countries had to constantly seek approval from the general public and ExCo members, giving the richest countries a simple opportunity to bribe their way to victory in the bidding war. This also caused the politicization of football and led to FIFA meddling in public policy. But, most importantly, it revealed the beginning of a new era of bribing. Although Germany had won the 2006 bidding contest with 12 out of 24 votes and one abstention, years later, news was leaked that they had bought 4 of the votes, including the abstaining member.

This bribery recurred in the bidding contest for the 2010 World Cup between Morocco, Egypt, and South Africa. Allegations were later uncovered that South Africa had paid millions of dollars in bribes to FIFA officials for their votes.

All of this leads up to the main focus of this article: December 2, 2010. On this day, the FIFA ExCo voted on and announced the 2018 and 2022 World Cup host countries. The 2018 Cup bid was between 4 European countries: England, Russia, Spain and Portugal, and Belgium and Netherlands, with England’s reliable infrastructure systems and economic stability making it a favorite. Similarly, the 2022 World Cup bid saw the US far ahead of Australia, South Korea, Japan, and Qatar in terms of votes. The infrastructure aspect, however, only seemed to make a minor impact as the money spent in the public bidding process explained earlier seemed to sway the FIFA ExCo the most. Due to this factor, Russia defeated England to host the 2018 World Cup by pledging 10 billion dollars to invest in 16 stadiums, money provided by Russian oligarchs like Roman Abramovich, the former owner of the Chelsea Football Club. Two ExCo members also admitted to accepting millions of dollars in bribes from Russian officials in return for their vote for the 2018 host country bid.

And if Russia’s corrupt practices seem abominable, it is nothing compared to what Qatar did to win the bid for the 2022 World Cup.

Qatar, a geographically small country in the Middle East originally populated by nomadic tribes and fishing villages, had already taken advantage of the giant oil and gas reserves discovered in their neighboring ocean, making it rise up the ranks from a country whose biggest export was pearl diving to one of the richest countries in the world. In fact, because they are host to the largest known natural gas field in the entire world, 70% of the Qatari government’s revenue is rooted in oil and gas exports. Over the past few decades, the country has gone through a series of major reformations with the prime example being their capital, Doha. The city started out as a small fishing port but later became a city flourishing with extravagant displays of wealth. However, this growth is not expected to sustain much longer as countries start turning towards renewable sources of energy and many of their neighboring countries imposed blockades on Qatar in 2017 to cut off trade and travel which cost them millions of dollars.

In order to ensure that these factors don’t hinder Qatar’s economic growth and to diversify their economy, the government has begun involving the country into areas of soft power; in this case, sports. By establishing Qatar’s status as a prominent member of the sports world, they have strengthened relations with more powerful countries in the West, further expanding their influence. Ostensibly, in the last 18 years, Qatar has hosted 20 major sporting events, the most important being the 2022 World Cup.

Now that we understand why this small, seemingly insignificant country needs so much influence for their economy, the rest is easy: the only way for Qatar to beat out their major opponents in the bidding contest like the US was to engage in bribery at a dangerous scale. And, more importantly, there is one man who was behind putting the entire plan into action. Mohammed bin Hammam, a member of the 2010 FIFA ExCo who is also a major Qatari football administrator, was able to pull together a total of 14 votes, almost doubling the USA’s mere 8 votes. While Hammam has never openly admitted to any business dealings with other ExCo members, the FBI has launched several investigations to discover the exact terms and conditions for these meetings, how they took place, and who was involved. Hammam’s influence was even able to buy the vote of the European FIFA Confederation (UEFA) president, Michel Platini, who has a major say in many FIFA proceedings. With all of this support, Qatar was easily able to bribe their way into winning the bid for hosting the 2022 World Cup.

At the end of the day, as the 2022 World Cup comes to a close, Qatar got exactly what it wanted: millions of tourists and an honorable place on the international stage. While there were some reforms that almost destroyed FIFA afterwards like ExCo members getting banned and arrested, then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter resigning in disgrace, and returning the vote for World Cup host back to the general FIFA Congress, the problem is that bribery occurred in the modern day, right in front of our eyes, and Russia and Qatar will get away from all these allegations. During a time when we are so vulnerable, it is essential that we enforce societal standards to ensure that opulent, wealthy folks cannot exploit the general public by bribing anyone from the government to the highest-ranking officials in a sports organization. And the next time a major scandal like this occurs, it is up to us everyday citizens to pull out the red card and stop FIFA and corrupt nations like Qatar from continuing the game.

Sources:

KRISHNA MANO

Hello! My name is Krishna Mano and I am an 10th Grader at City High School. This is my third year writing for the City Voice and first year as an editor. Apart from the newspaper, I am part of the Speech and Debate team, Student Ambassadors, and a board member of the NHS. Outside of school, my most favorite hobbies are reading, playing the violin, public speaking, and paddleboarding. If you have any questions about my articles, please contact me at krishna.mano.thecityvoice@gmail.com.

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